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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Peaks and valleys are common in every cold season.
“This could be considered a peak,” said Bonnie Hinds, public information officer for the East Tennessee Regional Health Department.
Like many of its surrounding counties, Roane County hasn’t been able to escape those peaks, either.
School was cancelled on Feb. 22 because of illness, and some principals reported large groups of students and teachers being out sick.
Rockwood High School principal Alan Reed said his school had close to 90 absences on Tuesday.
“The weeks before were typical of what we normally see,” Reed said. “This week, it is up.”
Some schools have had trouble finding substitutes to fill in for sick teachers.
“Some schools it’s been large groups of students, so I guess it depends on the individual school,” Bowers Elementary School principal Candace Lett said. “Like at my school. Today (Feb. 21) it was both, but earlier in the week it was just staff, so every school is different.”
Ellen Sheldon, Head Start director for Mid-East Community Action Agency, said attendance has been down for a different reason.
“We’ve had low attendance because the schools are closing, not because there’s been more sickness this year than there has been the last two years,” she said. “Parents have said if the older child is staying home, I’m going to keep the younger child home as well.”
Mid-East Head Start serves Roane and Loudon counties. Sheldon said the number of teachers who have been absent have run about the same as they have in past years as well.
A lot of the sickness has been attributed to the flu. While the anecdotal evidence may resemble a different picture, the actual number of cases diagnosed as flu or flu-like by doctors is not all that high in Roane County.
The regional health department, which tracks flu cases in 15 East Tennessee counties, reported 85 diagnosed cases in Roane County through Feb. 22.
Blount County had the highest number at 393.
In addition to the flu, there have also been reports of gastrointestinal illnesses going around.
“There are a couple of different things out there, which is not unusual during this time of year,” Hinds said.
Illnesses like the flu are very contagious, so Hinds said the regional health department advises anyone who is sick to stay home from work or school.
“Obviously anytime you’ve got a temperature that indicates there is infection present, you should stay home, get bed rest, drink liquids and consult with your physician,” she said.
There are several steps people can take to avoid spreading germs that can make others sick.
Those include hand-washing with soap and water or hand sanitizer.
Proper cough etiquette can also stop the spread of germs.
“A lot of people still cover coughs with their hands and that’s the wrong way to do it because germs can easily transfer from your hand to hard surfaces,” Hinds said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people to cough or sneeze into their upper sleeve, so germ droplets are captured in clothing where they are harder to transfer.
For those who haven’t done so already, Hinds said the flu shot is still recommended because flu season runs through May.